Colt Idol and wife to lead the Dick Idol Gallery
From an outsider’s perspective, it might seem that Colt Idol’s fate was sealed from an early age.
His father, an accomplished artist in many mediums, rubbed his passion, talent and lack of inhibition off on his son as he grew into a man.
A knack for athletics brought him away from the Flathead Valley to compete for Montana State University in track and basketball, but Idol never went too long without picking up his paintbrushes. He felt a passion for athletics, but nothing close to what he felt when he painted.
“I thought I was very passionate about sports and athletics but then I started painting,” Idol said. “It was so addicting to learn and improve and be able to sell work.”
He kept waiting for the same ambition to take over in a different part of his life, but nothing came close to rivaling his desire to paint.
“I can’t think of doing anything else,” Idol said. “There is nothing I would rather be doing.”
Despite making the honor roll when he was there in 2010, Idol soon transferred from Montana State to Carroll College in Helena to look for a better fit. After being away for just a year and a half, he came back to the Flathead Valley to try to figure out what he wanted to do next.
“My dad was the main one who said, you know, if you want to paint and be an artist, do it,” Idol said.
Soon, Idol was taking workshops from skilled artists in the area and even getting his own work put in galleries. He got his first gallery placement at the Steve Isley gallery in downtown Whitefish, just across Central Avenue from what would one day be Dick Idol Gallery.
He and his father were both painting and producing work at that point and were trying to find ways to showcase their pieces. Friends suggested they start their own gallery, so they found the space and went for it.
The space they leased was a fixer-upper, but it was right on Central Avenue in downtown Whitefish and after some work it began to look like a true artist’s venue. They exposed brick that had been covered up on one of the walls and constructed the entire infrastructure needed to hang and display high quality art and open the eponymous Dick Idol Gallery.
“We came in and redid everything,” Idol said. “It was really exciting, but it was very uncertain.”
Idol said they had some initial luck populating the gallery with work from some very talented artists, which is something his father has always excelled at. If they were worried their expectations were too high, they didn’t have to wait long for affirmation.
“It was a pretty uncertain economy to start a fine art gallery, but the response immediately was huge,” Idol said.
Several years passed, and the gallery rose to regional prominence. Now they have clients from all over the country and feature some of the most highly-regarded artists in the state, like Crow artist Ben Pease.
That prominence has allowed them to take advantage of big-name events like annual art shows held at the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls and use them as recruiting grounds to fill their own gallery.
As the years passed, Idol’s father aged and his own rise in prominence led to a scattering of projects that had him criss-crossing the nation. He is currently working on a giant statue of razorbacks at the University of Arkansas along with producing his own furniture line, which will soon be available across the nation and in the local Wright’s Furniture.
Idol’s father started to feel that the time was approaching to sell the gallery, adn eventually, Idol caught wind that he wanted to sell it to his son.
At the time, Idol’s now-wife Jennifer was just his girlfriend and was about to enter nursing school. She wasn’t an artist, so he wasn’t sure it would be a good fit for his future family.
Still, they discussed the proposition and she decided to instead begin working in the gallery to see how she took to it.
It was a quick and easy fit, and Jennifer quickly became an integral part of the team. Colt was continuing to improve as an artist, and they decided to take the plunge and become co-owners. They’ve since married as well.
“If we didn’t buy it, who would? Someone else would, and we’d lose a lot of control over our destiny here,” Idol said. “We’ve both grown to love it very much, so it is definitely within our wheelhouse.”
Colt’s biggest concern heading in was that running the business would sap too much of his studio time, and his art would suffer. He credits Jennifer and the other three women, including his step-mother Toni Idol, who run the gallery with making sure that hasn’t happened.
“That was the only red flag going in,” Idol said. “My first priority was the originals, really.”
While Colt paints, the rest of the team manages sales and makes sure the gallery remains a premier destination for art aficionados in the region.
“Really, it hasn’t been too bad. I still spend most of my time in the studio and they run the show here,” Idol said. “The four employees, the four gals working here, they just do such a great job. It’s made it a lot easier on me.”
Their goal was to make the transition as smooth as possible. Idol said if he could have it his way, he would not want anyone to know the ownership had changed.
Still, they have a couple ideas about how they would like to improve the business in the years to come. Idol said, like many small businesses in the area, they suffer from the seasonal ebb and flow of business and traffic. He would like to see them take advantage of their national clientele and ramp up sales even during the shoulder seasons between summer and winter. There are even talks of one day opening a second location, though he said that’s likely down the road quite a ways.
Idol said he’s introduced new pieces, but not really any new genres. His father left big shoes to fill when it came to finding specialty items to exhibit and sell, but one wouldn’t know by walking through the gallery today. Right up front sits an ornate, handmade clock from an artist out of Oregon. At the back sits a huge walrus skull with two long, engraved tusks.
Despite juggling the newfound duties of running a business, Idol has continued to improve and make inroads as a rising star in the art world.
Last year, the Great Falls Tribune reported that Idol was on the shortlist to join the exclusive Skull Society, an association of Western artists named by the C.M. Russell Museum which includes artists who experience wild success in the museum’s auctions and exhibit the commitment to excellence demonstrated by the museum’s namesake, Charlie Russell.
The newfound notoriety does not appear to have gone to Idol’s head. When he speaks, he quickly diverts credit to the cadre of women that run the gallery day in and day out. He speaks of art and the other artists who make his gallery beautiful with far more verve than he speaks about his own ascendance.
He is aware, however, of the family legacy and conscious that for art like his to survive, it needs to be passed down so that young artists can benefit from the same type of attention he received when he was a budding artist. This spring, he taught his first workshop.
Reporter Peregrine Frissell can be reached at (406) 758-4438 or email@example.com.